"Where Will You Sleep Tonight?" The Samo Longhouse, A Metaphor of Spatial and Social Structure

R. Daniel Shaw


The juxtaposition of physical space and social interaction among the precontact Samo people of Papua New Guinea's east Strickland Plain is analyzed through a rich cultural metaphor reflecting on where people habitually sleep. Where a person sleeps establishes individual status within the collectivity of a household, which is identified as both a dwelling and an interactive group of family-oriented people. A longhouse was typically built on a ridgetop amid gardens, sago-lined swamp, and surrounding forest, together creating an economic environment that, in effect, fed the community. Similarly, social space was created through the reciprocal exchange of female siblings that enabled men to establish alliances. Built space and social interaction, then, have significance that begins with where one sleeps-at the center of a spatial and social world. This cultural identification of persons with places is of interest to social anthropologists and those who study the interactivity between a people's social structure and its surroundings, including built space.

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